Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 19 2016

Nutra-Ingredients special edition: world malnutrition

What is the role of the food industry in helping to address world malnutrition?  This collection of articles from Nutra-Ingredients.com begins with a viewpoint from Nestlé (no relation), the world’s largest food company.

Nestlé: Profit is not a dirty word in the race against global malnutrition

Big food companies like Nestlé are oft-criticised for being a factor in the spread of non-communicable diseases like obesity and diabetes with less healthy food offerings but all are engaged in shifting their portfolios to the healthier end of the spectrum, and their capacity to deliver benefits with fortified offerings to malnourished populations can be overlooked.“The food industry is a commercial enterprise – that won’t change – but it has immense power to bring nutrients to the populations that needs them the most.

Here are the other articles in this series.

Jan 15 2016

Weekend Reading: Divided Spirits

Sarah Bowen.  Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production.  University of California Press, 2015

This remarkable book, a recent addition to UC Press’s series on California Studies in Food and Culture, uses drinks distilled from roasted, fermented agave as a basis for entering into debates about production and protection of indigenous food products in the face of globalization.

In recent years, traditional foods and drinks have emerged as profitable and politically salient alternatives to the perceived homogenizing effects of globalization.  Initiatives like the Slow Food movement and DOs [denomination of origin] attempt to rescue eating establishments, dishes, and products from the flood of standardization engendered by the industrial food system.  In doing so, they strive to support the rural communities, farmers, and processors involved in the production of traditional products.  And yet, as my research shows, efforts to regulate Mexico’s iconic spirits illustrate the limitations of relying on alternative markets to protect food cultures and the livelihoods of those who produce them.  My work demonstrates how cultural symbolism can be manipulated to perpetuate and deepen long-standing inequalities along global commodity chains.

Or, as she explains much later, “the right to define what constitutes ‘tequila’ and ‘mezcal’ extends as much from market power and it does from a sense of tradition or justice.”

Consider this book with your next Margarita.

Jan 14 2016

Five more industry-sponsored studies. The score 100:9

If you have been following this saga, you will know that since mid-March 2015 I’ve been collecting examples of published research supported wholly or in part by food companies.  As of today, the collection includes 95 studies with results favorable to the sponsor’s marketing interests as opposed to just 9 with unfavorable results.

Here are the most recent five.  These bring up general and specific questions that I’m pondering these days and I’ve indicated them in red.

The Effects of Water and Non-Nutritive Sweetened Beverages on Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance: A Randomized Clinical Trial.  John C. Peters, Jimikaye Beck, Michelle Cardel, Holly R. Wyatt, Gary D. Foster, Zhaoxing Pan, Alexis C. Wojtanowski, Stephanie S. Vander Veur, Sharon J. Herring, Carrie Brill, and James O. Hill. Obesity (2015) 00, 00–00. doi:10.1002/oby.21327.

  • Conclusions: Water and NNS [non-nutritive sweetened] beverages were not equivalent for weight loss and maintenance during a 1-year behavioral treatment program. NNS beverages were superior for weight loss and weight maintenance in a population consisting of regular users of NNS beverages who either maintained or discontinued consumption of these beverages and consumed water during a structured weight loss program. These results suggest that NNS beverages can be an effective tool for weight loss and maintenance within the context of a weight management program.
  • Funding agencies: The study was fully funded by The American Beverage Association. The American Beverage Association was not involved in the design, conduct, interpretation, or manuscript preparation of this study. Furthermore, a third-party organization (Biofortis-Provident) was hired at the PIs’ request. Biofortis-Provident audited data at both clinical sites to check for the accuracy and integrity of the data…Disclosure: J.C.P. and J.O.H. received consulting fees from The Coca-Cola Company outside of the submitted work.
  • Questions: Does recruiting a third party to audit data increase confidence in the credibility of this study?  Isn’t it more relevant to ask about how the research question is framed? 

Nutrition and Health Disparities: The Role of Dairy in Improving Minority Health Outcomes.  Constance Brown-Riggs.  Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2016, 13(1), 28; doi:10.3390/ijerph13010028.

  • Conclusion: Because of the presence of lactase-producing cultures, yogurt is often a more easily digestible alternative to milk, and thus more palatable to people who experience symptoms of lactose intolerance. This was a key factor cited in the final rule to include yogurt in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
  • Funding: This work was supported by The Dannon Company Inc. (White Plains, NY). The Dannon Company Inc. provided information for this article but did not have final approval for its content.
  • Conflicts of Interest: Nutrition advisor for Dannon’s One Yogurt Everyday Initiative, providing consultation services on the health issues affecting African Americans.

Protein Supplementation at Breakfast and Lunch for 24 Weeks beyond Habitual Intakes Increases Whole-Body Lean Tissue Mass in Healthy Older Adults.  Catherine Norton, Clodagh Toomey, William G McCormack, Peter Francis, Jean Saunders, Emmet Kerin, and Philip Jakeman.  Nutr. 2016; 146:65-69 doi:10.3945/jn.115.219022.

  • Conclusions: Protein supplementation at breakfast and lunch for 24 wk in healthy older adults resulted in a positive (+0.6 kg) difference in LTM compared with an isoenergetic, nonnitrogenous maltodextrin control. These observations suggest that an optimized and balanced distribution of meal protein intakes could be beneficial in the preservation of lean tissue mass in the elderly.
  • Funding: Supported by Food for Health Ireland and Enterprise Ireland grant CC20080001.  Author disclosures: C Norton, C Toomey, P Francis, J Saunders, E Kerin, and P Jakeman, no conflicts of interest. WG McCormack was an employee of Carbery Ingredients on secondment to Food for Health Ireland during the in vivo data collection and analysis.
  • Comment: The Carbery Group advertises itself as “a global leader in food ingredients, flavours and cheese.”
  • Question: Why would Carbery put one of its employees to work on this study?

Dietary vitamin D dose-response in healthy children 2 to 8 y of age: a 12-wk randomized controlled trial using fortified foods.  Neil R Brett, Paula Lavery, Sherry Agellon, Catherine A Vanstone, Jonathon L Maguire, Frank Rauch, and Hope A Weiler.  Am J Clin Nutr 2016; 103:144-152 doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.115956.

  • Conclusion: Increasing the vitamin D intakes of young children through fortification of alternative dairy products results in significantly higher serum concentrations of 25(OH)D and a significantly greater proportion of children with serum 25(OH)D $50 nmol/L during periods of minimal ultraviolet B radiation exposure.
  • Supported by funding from Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and Canada Research Chairs, and in-kind support from Agropur and Ultima Foods for the study products.
  • Question: Does providing study products introduce conflicts of interest?

Comparison of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and a higher-fat DASH diet on blood pressure and lipids and lipoproteins: a randomized controlled trial.  Sally Chiu, Nathalie Bergeron, Paul T Williams, George A Bray, Barbara Sutherland, and Ronald M Krauss.

  • Conclusions: The HF-DASH diet lowered blood pressure to the same extent as the DASH diet but also reduced plasma triglyceride and VLDL concentrations without significantly increasing LDL cholesterol
  • Supported by Dairy Management Inc. and by the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NIH, through University of California, San Francisco Clinical & Translational Science Institute grant UL1 RR024131.  RMK has previously received and is currently receiving research funding from Dairy Management Inc. for this and other projects. None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest. This was an investigator-initiated study, and its financial supporters had no role in the study design, implementation, data analysis, or data interpretation.
  • Question: Does this mean that the investigators decided what they wanted to study and then asked Dairy Management Inc for funding, knowing that Dairy Management would have congruent interests?  Does something like this increase confidence in the results?

I don’t have clear, unambiguous answers to such questions and am collecting opinions in preparation for my next book project.  If you have thoughts about these matters, do share.

Jan 12 2016

The latest in food politics: yogurt wars!

You’ve heard of cola wars?  Try yogurt.

Here’s Chobani’s opening salvo from the New York Times on January 10, and Stephanie Strom’s account of it:

Capture

The ad says:

Did you know that not all yogurts are equally good for you?…

Look, there’s potassium sorbate as a preservative in Yoplait Greek 100.  

Potassium sorbate.  Really.  That stuff is used to kill bugs.

There’s sucralose used as a sweetener in Dannon Light & Fit Greek.  

Sucralose?  Why?  That stuff has chlorine added to it!…

Chobani simply 100 is the only 100-Calorie Greek Yogurt without a trace of any artifical sweeteners or artificial preservatives.

Shades of The Food Babe!

Will yogurt wars help Chobani’s bottom line?

According to Politico Pro

Chobani has taken its dispute over yogurt ingredients with rival Dannon to court, filing a lawsuit Friday that asks a federal judge to declare that claims made in its advertisements “do not constitute false, misleading, disparaging, or deceptive statements”…Chobani’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, follows a letter sent by Dannon on Jan. 7 asking Chobani to discontinue the advertisements.

General Mills, which owns Yoplait, has also sued on the grounds that Chobani’s claims are false and misleading (here are General Mills’ complaint and supporting memo).

And here’s Chobani’s response.

We shall see.

Update, January 29

The Court ruled that Chobani cannot criticize its rivals’ ingredients but can promote its products as natural.  The case is Chobani LLC v The Dannon Company, 3:16-cv-00030, filed in the Northern District of New York on January 8; and 0:16-cv-00052-MJD-BRT filed in the US District Court District Of Minnesota on Jan 10.

Chobani’s press release puts a positive spin on the ruling (sent via e-mail):

Chobani Continues to Fight the Good Fight 

Continues to inform consumers about what’s in their cup

NORWICH, N.Y., Jan. 29, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Chobani, LLC, (“Chobani”), maker of the #1 Greek Yogurt Brand in America, said today that, while it awaits its day in court, it will continue its mission to call on food makers to use only natural ingredients. Chobani will respect the Court’s preliminary decision as it continues its campaign to provide consumers with more information about natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients. As part of the ruling, the Judge said Chobani is free to continue to spread its message about the value of selecting natural ingredients.

“This is not a marketing campaign, it’s a mindset campaign, and it outlines the difference between using only natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients,” said Peter McGuinness, Chief Marketing and Brand Officer, Chobani. “While we’re disappointed by the preliminary ruling, we’re committed to continuing the conversation and it’s good to see big food companies like General Mills starting to remove artificial ingredients from some of their products, like their cereals. In the end, if we can give more people more information while helping other food companies make better food, everyone wins.”

Chobani launched its Chobani Simply 100 Greek Yogurt campaign on January 6, 2016, to help people make more informed decisions about their food choices. Chobani still believes that highlighting the difference between natural and artificial ingredients, specifically sweeteners and preservatives, is important.

Chobani is committed to making high quality Greek Yogurt with simple, authentic, and only natural ingredients, such as fresh milk from local farmers and wholesome fruit. Chobani Simply 100 Greek Yogurt is the only nationally distributed brand of reduced calorie Greek Yogurt that does not contain artificial sweeteners or artificial preservatives.

 

Jan 11 2016

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines’ hidden advice about sugary drinks: definitely there, but hard to find 

I’m indebted to Maria Godoy of NPR’s The Salt for pointing out where in the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines you can find advice about cutting down on sugary drinks.  As she puts it, this is easy to miss.

Here’s my wonky analysis.

In my post about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, I noted that they are unambiguous about the need to reduce added sugars to 10% or less of calories.  But what they say about cutting down on sugary drinks—the leading source of sugars in US diets—is buried deep in the text.  Fortunately, Deborah Noble of slowfoodfast.com has performed a great public service by producing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines in a searchable pdf format.Here’s where to find advice about cutting down on sugary drinks:

The Executive Summary: See under “Cross-Cutting Topics of Public Health Importance:”

Similarly, added sugars should be reduced in the diet and not replaced with low-calorie sweeteners, but rather with healthy options, such as water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Figure 2-10 explains:

The major source of added sugars in typical U.S. diets is beverages, which include soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages, and flavored waters.

Reading the Figure tells you that beverages comprise a whopping 47% of added sugars (closer to half if you add in sweetened milks, teas, and coffees).  The text following the Figure says:

Shift to reduce added sugars consumption to less than 10 percent of calories per day: Individuals have many potential options for reducing the intake of added sugars. Strategies include choosing beverages with no added sugars, such as water, in place of sugar-sweetened beverages, reducing portions of sugar-sweetened beverages, drinking these beverages less often, and selecting beverages low in added sugars.

Strategies?  How about just saying: “Cut down on sugary drinks” or “Drink water instead of sugary drinks.”

Figure ES-1 in the Executive Summary illustrates the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans at a Glance.  All it says is:

Limit calories from added sugars…Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars…Cut back on food and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.

Figure 3.2 shows Implementation of the Guidelines through MyPlate: “Drink and eat less…added sugars,” but nothing about sugary drinks.

This circumspection is weird.  Clear, straightforward advice to cut down on sugary beverages has plenty of historical precedent.

Both Figures ES-1 and 3.2 are most certainly derived from a USDA graphic on the MyPlate website (dated January 2016).  This says flat out:

Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

This statement, in turn, derives from:

  • The precepts issued with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines in January 2011
  • The statements issued with the MyPlate graphic in June 2011

myplate

  • The USDA’s May 2012 tip for making better beverage choices.

The 2015 DGAC (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) repeatedly urged limits on consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.  Statements like this one, for example, appear throughout the document:

To decrease dietary intake from added sugars, the U.S. population should reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Why did the USDA and HHS writing committee choose to waffle about his point?

This cannot be an accident.  It must be deliberate.  And it can have only one explanation: politics.

Jan 8 2016

Weekend reading: Sugar!

After all the talk yesterday about the Dietary Guidelines’ advice to cut down on sugar, and our sadness at the passing of Sidney Mintz who wrote Sweetness and Power, it’s good to consider just why we like sugar so much.  Oxford University Press has an encyclopedia on Sugar and Sweets.  But this weekend, for a short and sweet reminder, consider this contribution to the genre.

Andrew F. Smith.  Sugar: A Global History. Reaktion Books, 2015.

This is one of Andy Smith’s entries in Reaktion’s Edible series of small, brief, lavishly illustrated books devoted to a single food or beverage.

Andy discussed the genesis of this book in an e-mail memorial to Sidney Mintz.

Sid Mintz had an influence on my professional life as well. In the early 1980s I decided to use sugar as a vehicle to write a history of the world.  It was going to be a three volume work: one volume on Southeast Asia/India and the ancient world; one on the Middle East/Mediterranean in the Middle Ages/Renaissance; and one on the Americas and the modern world. I acquired and located thousands of potential books/articles and these were likely just a small portion of the material I assumed would be necessary to examine.

I continued plugging away until Sid published Sweetness and Power (1985), I assumed publishers would not be interested in another book on sugar history, so I decided to wait a couple years for it to go out of print before I resumed work on my sugar project.  So in the interim I decided to write a book on the history of the tomato, which was published in 1994. Then one topic led to another and sugar ended up on the shelve…

When I dined with Sid in 2001, I told him my sugar story, and asked him if he’d take his book out of print so I could write a sugar book. He laughed, and told me what I knew to be true– the topic of sugar history was big enough for many books.

I finally got around to writing Sugar: A Global History, which was published last spring. Rather than the three volume extravaganza I had planned, it ended up one of the shortest books I’ve ever written.

Maybe, but lots of that information got into it, wonderfully written, and beautiful to behold.

Jan 7 2016

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, at long last

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines are out.

Picture1

They are now online in a version that takes up dozens of screens with annoying drop-down boxes.  It’s hard to navigate, and if it’s searchable, I can’t figure out how (OK, it’s searchable but doesn’t work all that well).

First the good news.  These Dietary Guidelines—for the first time—attempt to focus on foods and dietary patterns:

Previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines focused primarily on individual dietary components such as food groups and nutrients. However, people do not eat food groups and nutrients in isolation but rather in combination, and the totality of the diet forms an overall eating pattern.

They almost succeed in this mission.  The Guidelines say:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan [Pattern].
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount [Pattern].
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake [Oops: Nutrients].
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices [Pattern].
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all [Pattern].

A healthy eating pattern, they say:

  • Includes foods from various groups [Pattern].
  • Limits saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium [Oops: Nutrients].

As for (Oops) Nutrients:

  • Less than 10% of calories from added sugars [this is new, but consistent with many other reports such as the one from WHO]
  • Less than 10% of calories from saturated fats [in the Guidelines since 1990]
  • Less than 2,300 mg sodium [no change from 2010]

Why Oops?  Because these Dietary Guidelines, like all previous versions, recommend foods when they suggest “eat more.”   But they switch to nutrients whenever they suggest “eat less.”

In the 2015 Dietary Guidelines,

  • Saturated fat is a euphemism for meat.
  • Added sugars is a euphemism for sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Sodium is a euphemism for processed foods and junk foods.

If the Guidelines really focused on dietary patterns, they wouldn’t pussyfoot.  They would come right out and say:

  • Eat less meat [OK, they do but only under the euphemism of “protein” and only for males. “Some individuals, especially teen boys and adult men, also need to reduce overall intake of protein foods (see Figure 2-3) by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables or other underconsumed food groups.”  But what about processed meats?  Not a word that I can find.
  • Cut down on sugary drinks [OK, it says “drink water instead of sugary drinks,” but good luck finding that statement without knowing where it is].
  • Eat less processed and junk food.

Why don’t they?  Politics, of course.

Recall that Congress weighed in with an Appropriations Bill that called for an investigation of the scientific basis of the Guidelines and granted $1 million to the National Academy of Medicine to take them over.

Recall also that the secretaries of USDA and HHS said that the Guidelines would not say anything about sustainability as a rationale for advising eating less meat.

So let’s count the 2015 Guidelines as a win for the meat, sugary drink, processed, and junk food industries.

Other concerns, nutritional and otherwise:

  • Calories: The Guidelines deemphasize calories.  They dropped the information about food sources of calories from the 2010 edition, even though calorie balance remains a—if not the—major public health nutrition problem (an Appendix gives calorie needs).
  • Portion sizes: the best way to control calorie intake is by eating smaller or moderate portions. If the Guidelines talk about portion size, it must be well hidden.
  • Cholesterol: the recommendation to limit cholesterol has been dropped, but the document says, confusingly, that “this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns. As recommended by the IOM, individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.”  Could the dropping of the limit have anything to do with egg-industry funding of research on eggs, the largest source of dietary cholesterol, and blood cholesterol?  The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has just filed a lawsuit on that very point.
  • Protein: My pet peeve.  The Guidelines use this as yet another euphemism for meat.  “Protein” lumps meat together with seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, and soy.  But grains and dairy also have protein, so using this term makes no nutritional sense and obfuscates the message to eat less meat.
  • Seafood: the document recommends 8 ounces a week of seafood high in omega-3s but low in methylmercury. That pretty much means salmon and sardines (anchovies are too salty).

I might have more to say when I can look at a document that is easier to read.

Full disclosure: I was a peer reviewer on an earlier version of this document.

Documents and commentary

Jan 6 2016

Viewpoint: Food-industry Funding of Food and Nutrition Research

My latest Viewpoint, “Corporate funding of food and nutrition research: science or marketing,” was published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine 2016;176 (1):13-14.  doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.6667.

The longstanding influence of food industry funding on nutrition research, researchers, and professional societies1 threatens the credibility of nutrition science. So much research is sponsored by industry that health professionals and the public may lose confidence in basic dietary advice. Although most journals now require authors to disclose who pays for their work, disclosure—even done diligently—is not sufficient to alert readers to the extent to which industry funding influences research results and professional opinion. As is well established from experimental and observational research, drug company gifts and grants can have substantial effects. To recipients, however, these effects are almost always unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized, making them especially difficult to prevent.

Medical schools and medical journals have increased efforts to minimize and manage conflicts of interest with industry. But from my observations, nutrition researchers, journals, and professional societies, like medical researchers, often fail to realize that food-industry funding may affect their work and its credibility.

Two recent investigative articles in the New York Times illustrate the concerns about biases introduced by industry funding. The first3 described the support by Coca-Cola of academic researchers who founded a new organization, the Global Energy Balance Network, to promote physical activity as a more effective method than calorie control (eg, from avoiding sugary sodas) for preventing obesity. The second4 analyzed emails obtained through open-records requests to document how Monsanto, the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, on the one hand, and the organic food industry, on the other, recruited professors to lobby, write, and testify to Congress on their behalf.

Both articles3,4 quoted the researchers named in these reports as denying an influence of industry funding and lamenting the paucity of university research funds and the competitiveness of federal grants. Despite leaving their organizations open to accusations that they have sold out to industry,5 officers of nutrition research societies tell me that they cannot function without industry funding of journals and conferences. They have a point. Although the investment by federal agencies in food and nutrition research has increased steadily since the early 1990s, US Department of Agriculture grants are diminishing, and the National Institutes of Health are funding fewer researchers at state agricultural colleges. Investigators have a hard time obtaining grants for projects related to food composition, food technology, nutrients, and nutrient metabolism as federal agencies have understandably shifted priorities toward research on obesity, genetics, and chronic diseases.6

Food companies, such as Quaker Oats, used to support basic research conducted by in-house scientists, but Unilever and Nestlé (no relation) are among the very few companies that continue to do so. Instead, food companies outsource research, much of which can appear as designed for marketing purposes. Recently, in preparation for what I intend to be a more systematic analysis of corporate funding of nutrition research, I began collecting a convenience sample of studies funded by food and beverage companies or trade associations as they appear in journals I happen to be reading. I sort them by whether their results do or do not favor the interests of the sponsor, and post examples online at my blog, http://www.foodpolitics.com.7

Between March and October 2015, I identified 76 industry-funded studies. Of these, 70 reported results favorable to the sponsor’s interest. Despite ongoing requests to readers of my blog to help me identify funded studies reporting results contrary to a funder’s interest, I have found only 6.  [Note: Since writing this, the score has gone to 90:9.] This discrepancy is consistent with the results of systematic investigations of industry sponsorship, such as one on the role of sugar-sweetened beverages in obesity.8 In general, independently funded studies find correlations between sugary drinks and poor health, whereas those supported by the soda industry do not.9 In the studies I collected, companies or trade associations promoting soft drinks, dairy foods, eggs, breakfast cereals, pork, beef, soy products, dietary supplements, juices, cranberries, nuts, and chocolates supported the study itself, the investigators, or both. These studies all found significant health benefits or lack of harm from consuming the foods investigated, results that can be useful for deflecting criticism of a company or promoting its products.

Mars Inc, for example, the maker of chocolate candies such as M&Ms, funds studies on the effects of cocoa flavanols on arterial function and blood pressure. One such study, published in September 2015,10(p1246)concluded that these compounds “improved accredited cardiovascular surrogates of cardiovascular risk, demonstrating that dietary flavanols have the potential to maintain cardiovascular health even in low-risk subjects.” The study investigators,10 one of whom is employed by Mars, followed well-established scientific protocols in conducting the research. Science is not the issue here. Marketing is the issue. The question is why Mars would fund a study like this and assign one of its employees to help design and write it. In this instance, the answer is obvious. Mars issued a press release “Cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people,” and noted these results in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on September 27, 2015, Neither the press release nor advertisement explained that cocoa flavanols are largely destroyed during all but the most careful processing of chocolate, nor did they mention chocolate at all. They didn’t have to. Uncritical readers are likely to interpret the statements as evidence that chocolate is good for them and that its sugar and calories can be ignored.

The second New York Times article4 raised more insidious concerns about industry involvement with scientists, using Monsanto and organic food companies as cases in point. Although both industries recruit scientists to speak on their behalf, Monsanto has far greater resources. In 1994, I was a member of the Food Advisory Committee to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when that agency approved genetically modified (GM) foods. I observed how Monsanto-funded scientists convinced the FDA that labeling GM foods would be misleading.

Confronted with increasing public support for labeling foods that are produced with GM ingredients, the biotechnology industry supported—and the House of Representatives passed—H.R. 1599 in July 2015. This bill, expected to be considered by the Senate before the end of 2015, has the Orwellian title, “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” but some critics call it the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.” Proposed by Representative Mike Pompeo (Kansas) on the basis that GM foods are safe and, therefore, acceptable, the act would block states from enacting labeling laws (as Vermont has already done) and permit GM foods to be labeled as “natural.” Opponents question the safety of GM foods. But they also raise additional reasons for full transparency in labeling—patents, control of seed stocks, the widespread application of chemical herbicides to GM crops, and the increasingly widespread resistance of weeds to those herbicides. When evaluating conflicting scientific and policy arguments about GM foods, it is useful to know who funds the researchers and their studies.

Should nutrition researchers and professional societies accept funding from food companies? Not without careful thinking. It’s time that food and nutrition researchers and societies recognize the influence of food-industry sponsorship, take steps to control its effects, and ensure that sponsored studies promote public health, not the marketing of food products. Journal editors should ensure that editors and members of editorial boards are free of industry conflicts, require peer reviewers to note food-industry funding in manuscript evaluations, and be wary of accepting industry-funded publications with evident commercial implications. If food companies and trade associations want to fund research, they should consider pooling resources and setting up an independent foundation to administer the grants. Everyone involved in this system should be doing everything possible to advocate for more research funds from federal granting agencies. Nothing less than the credibility of nutrition research and advice is at stake.

REFERENCES

1 Nestle  M. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.3rd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press; 2013.
2 Lo  B, Field  MJ, eds. Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2009.
3 O’Connor  A. Coca-Cola funds scientists who shift blame for obesity away from bad diets. New York Times. August 9, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/?_r=0. Accessed October 22, 2015.
4 Lipton  E. Food industry enlisted academics in G.M.O. lobbying war, emails show. New York Times. September 5, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/food-industry-enlisted-academics-in-gmo-lobbying-war-emails-show.html. Accessed October 22, 2015.
5 Simon  M. Nutrition scientists on the take from Big Food: has the American Society for Nutrition lost all credibility? June 2015. http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/ASNReportFinal.pdf. Accessed October 22, 2015.
6 Toole  AA, Kuchler  F. Improving health through nutrition research: an overview of the U.S. nutrition research system. Econ Res Rep No. 182. January 2015.http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1760111/err-182.pdf. Accessed October 27, 2015.
7 Nestle  M. Food Politics blog. http://www.foodpolitics.com. Accessed October 27, 2015.
8 Lesser  LI, Ebbeling  CB, Goozner  M, Wypij  D, Ludwig  DS.  Relationship between funding source and conclusion among nutrition-related scientific articles. PLoS Med. 2007;4(1):e5. PubMed   |  Link to Article
9 Massougbodji  J, Le Bodo  Y, Fratu  R, De Wals  P.  Reviews examining sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight: correlates of their quality and conclusions. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(5):1096-1104. PubMed   |  Link to Article
10 Sansone  R, Rodriguez-Mateos  A, Heuel  J,  et al; Flaviola Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program.  Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study. Br J Nutr. 2015;114(8):1246-1255. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002822PubMed   |  Link to Article

ARTICLE INFORMATION

Corresponding Author: Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, 411 Lafayette, Fifth Floor, New York, NY 10003-7035 (marion.nestle@nyu.edu).

Published Online: November 23, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.6667.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Nestle’s salary from New York University supports her research, manuscript preparation, website, and blog at http://www.foodpolitics.com. She also earns royalties from books and honoraria from lectures to university and health professional groups about matters relevant to this Viewpoint.

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